Thursday, June 17, 2010

Spy Roundtable: Council At-Large

The week before last, we shared our view of the current state of the Council At-Large race in the wake of the Apple Ballot. But as everyone knows, we are not omniscient and sometimes get it wrong. (Just ask the Missus!) So we turned to the people who really are omniscient: the burgeoning ranks of our Legion of Spies.

We picked a select group of informants who are knowledgeable about local politics on a county-wide basis. Some have their favorites, but none of them is running for an at-large seat or is paid by one of the candidates. We asked them this question: “In your opinion, at this point, which four candidates do you believe are most likely to be elected? And what is your reasoning behind making your picks?” Let’s open the secret, sealed responses from the spies, shall we?

Spy #1:

All incumbents return. Name recognition counts for a lot and the challengers have little or none. Even heavy direct mail from them will tend to get lost in the torrent of mail that’ll hit residents with contested state leg races. There are no cutting issues or wave to turn them out (as with growth in 2006), notwithstanding the County’s fiscal crisis. It’s very hard to target any incumbent AT-LARGE member unless there is an issue to use against them AND a sustained negative direct mail campaign (as with Blair Ewing in 2002). People get four votes and it’s hard to make sure a lot of your voters don’t also drop a ballot for whomever you are trying to beat.
Spy #2:

George Leventhal - The top vote getter in 06 has done nothing to alter that. He’s in solid shape financially, with endorsements, and with the political class. He’s running his first professional campaign and is working hard to keep his profile up. Agree with him or not, he comes off engaged and smart.

Hans Riemer - Apple ballot gives him a huge boost. He’s meeting fundraising goals and going all over the County. Smart guy who is making an impression and should have great field based on the people working for him.

Marc Elrich - Defying my early wisdom, he is running a campaign unlike any of his others (as he himself says). He has a strong base and every candidate is citing his big think BRT plan. He is becoming everyone’s favorite at-large incumbent.

#4 - Not sure. Floreen has a big target on her back and is doing herself no favors with her current public profile and lack of organization. Duchy has some passionate supporters but she will need to get used to a no-endorsement campaign. Her money will help. Thanks to the apple, Becky Wagner is on the rise again and she is doing lots of coffees. Whether her fundraising has picked up or not will tell us if she is good to go down the stretch in September. Jane and Fred are also-rans.
Spy #3:

George Leventhal - Has a lot of money and has effectively positioned himself well with a lot of a number of key constituencies: business, labor and minority communities, among others. Knows how to raise money and knows how to campaign. The issue for George is not whether he will be re-elected, but a more long term challenge: At his core, who is he and what does he really stand for other than being in office?

Becky Wagner - Is running a smart campaign and the MCPS endorsement was a huge boost to her chances. Has great ties throughout the County due to her leadership of Interfaith Works. Given her experience and personality, she likely will not stumble down the stretch as the election heat intensifies.

Marc Elrich - He has no money and is a pariah to the business community, but remains the darling of the civic community, a still powerful influence in Montgomery County. Love him or hate him, Marc always has something interesting to say.

Hans Riemer - The fourth spot is the toughest and I believe it will be close between Hans and Nancy Floreen. Bo knows football, and Hans knows grassroots campaigning, something he will use effectively. The apple ballot is a big boost for Hans but he still needs a higher profile among the rank and file in Montgomery County. Another boost for him is frustration with Nancy Floreen’s leadership. She was in a tough spot as leader of the Council in a tough budget year but the fact that she was the most oft quoted during the budget deliberations could be her undoing. Common sense alert: Pass on the Council Presidency during an election year, especially if trouble or controversy is looming.
Spy #4:

Marc Elrich, George Leventhal, Duchy Trachtenberg, Hans Riemer.

While the Apple Ballot is a very powerful endorsement, and gives a tremendous advantage to candidates on it, I think that a candidate will need to build significant countywide name ID to take advantage of it and compete with incumbents. Hans is developing that sort of name ID through and aggressive field campaign with an emphasis on visibility events. Becky Wagner, not so much. So I think Hans is the challenger with the best shot to win, but unless Wagner turns around and develops a strong field campaign, I think Duchy's money will win out.
Spy #5:

I pick Nancy, George, Duchy, and Marc for the election. Nancy and George because they have been top vote getters, and in these tough economic times they will be even more desirable to the average voter in November for being and appearing to be reasonable in a grim budget year---the unions won’t be as powerful as in the last two elections; MCEA lost a lot of cred. by its guilt-by-association with MCPS’s DUMB threat to sue the County govt., really an assault on the County itself (Nancy is taking some hits because she’s Council president and is acting like a leader since Ike declines to, all in a terrible year.) Duchy because even though she antagonizes most everyone and is deemed flaky, she has more money than God and will win assuming she advertises aggressively. Marc because even though he has no money, people like him, and the power of incumbency is worth a great deal.
Spy #6:

George, probably first. He doesn’t have a million people who love him, but no one hates him TOO much. He seems to appeal to both the lefties and the mainstream parts of the Democratic electorate.

Elrich, possibly second…which will surprise everyone. Marc started off as coattails with only a small (Takoma Park) base but has done a decent job at building bridges around the county. Even developers think they can work with him. He won praise for his work on Gaithersburg West/Science City from unlikely allies.

Hans, Becky, Nancy likely battle it out for 3rd & 4th. Floreen thought that being Council President would be an asset in an election year, but it hasn’t worked out that way for her. In a tough year, she had to work hard to build consensus… but ruffled a lot of feathers to get there. Hans is running a visible, grass roots campaign. Becky is known, loved, and respected by nonprofits and other community leaders around the county. We’ll see how much money each of these 3 are able to raise.

Duchy 6th. Not a big enough base. Despite her money, I’m not sure I see her as having a strong enough message and enough supporters to pull it out.

Jane & Fred battle it out for 7th/8th. I suspect that Jane will best Fred based on sheer effort. She’s working hard and showing up at events all over the county. As a first-time candidate, she has a lot to learn, but she gets credit for the willingness to learn.

A wild card? Who will the Post endorse??? I’m not sure I see them going with Hans, Duchy, or Marc, but I could be wrong…
Spy #7:

In projected order of finish:

(1) Elrich. Has done everything right so far this year. Better fund-raising, better PR, always helps to be an incumbent. A mortal lock.

(2) Leventhal. The master gamesman. Recruited Wagner to try to shove Duchy out, got Floreen on board, then finagled Wagner the Apple at Floreen’s expense, giving him an excuse to throw Floreen under the bus. Brilliant. Sh*tty, but brilliant.

(3) Riemer. Getting the Apple was good, although it was dulled somewhat by Wagner also getting it. Has a good base of support and lots of electeds and activists. Needs to sharpen both the message and the elbows a bit, though.

(4) Trachtenberg. $290,000 is a lot of money, although there’s little evidence of any of it having been spent at this point, much less spent well. But all that cash, combined with a residual and loyal base will be enough to squeak her through.

The also-rans:

(5) Wagner. The Apple was a coup, although I think it was more a case of “not Duchy” than pro-Becky. I just don’t see the allure of this campaign. I think she’s weak as a speaker, the campaign is invisible, and I haven’t heard any real basis for choosing her. On the other hand, George Leventhal will get her a decent chunk of votes. Just not enough.

(6) Floreen. Being Council President was a bad move. She’s getting blamed for everything, even things not of her doing. Worse still, her campaign is non-existent at this point. Not getting the Apple was a blow.

(7) DeWinter. Nice lady, speaks well, doesn’t have much to say. Completely overshadowed by Wagner and Riemer. No chance.

(8) Evans. Still wondering what he’s doing in this race.
In Summary:

This group of spies voted as follows:

Leventhal: 7
Elrich: 7
Trachtenberg: 4
Riemer: 4
Floreen: 2
Wagner: 1

Are they right? There are three months to go, so things could change. But these informants are collectively some of the best in MoCo. Your author is not ready to bet against them quite yet.